On Monday, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum published her response to the six recommendations provided by the Jutras Report into the events of November 10, when student demonstrators were driven off campus by Montreal police using pepper spray and tear gas during a student occupation of her office.
The day before, Munroe-Blum also issued her first response to the five-day occupation of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson’s office in the James Administration building. The students occupying, known as the #6party, were evicted by Montreal police earlier that morning.
The Daily spoke with Munroe-Blum by phone Monday afternoon. Click here to read the story on Munroe-Blum’s response to the Jutras Report.
The McGill Daily: Why was your response to the Jutras Report released today?
Heather Munroe-Blum: Well, it was always scheduled to come out right after the consultation with Board. As you may recall from December, I said that I wanted to continue the on campus consultations that began after November 10, and it would have come out two weeks earlier but for the interruption of the Board meeting and us rescheduling it so that we could get that input. And then as you know we were a little preoccupied, so the special board meeting to respond was a week ago today, and it would have been out then on Wednesday so I would have a chance to incorporate some of the feedback from the Board meeting, but then the events of the week overtook it and it didn’t seem appropriate to let it out then. But I did want to get it out fast because we want to start the open fora.
MD: So, if anything, it was delayed because of the events of last week?
HMB: Well, really because of the inability to have the consultation with the Board when it was scheduled, because of reasons you know.
MD: In your response you list a number of initiatives the administration is or has already been undertaking. Were most of these in effect since before the second occupation of James Admin?
HMB: All of them were underway.
MD: Why does the senior administration feel that a stronger relationship with the Montreal Police is necessary going forward?
HMB: Well, you’ll notice that Professor Jutras actually had that as one of his own recommendations, and public universities and any public institution – you could put hospitals and so forth into that group as well, where you have a community of people assembled – should have very good neighbourhood relations, and good relations with the local police. In fact, our relations, of course, have been longstanding. I can’t recall if it was five or six years ago, there was an incident on campus which made it clear that both because of linguistic differences and difference in operational procedures and so forth, we did not have a team relationship with the local police. So efforts were made then, five years ago roughly, to develop a much more proactive relationship with the local police. And that’s added value, you may have noticed, that during frosh week, for all kinds of very positive reasons, we’ve had police on our campuses – during orientation, people come from out of town, that kind of thing. But the events of November 10 showed that depending on the time of day or night that events occur, we had not developed as continuously engaging a relationship with our local police, no matter what shift it was on, what time of day. So we really have been looking at best practices for that. There was a strong sense, with the presence of the riot police on campus and my own meeting with the chief of police just after those events, that the views of the city, especially given the acts of violence in post-secondary institutions – and if you look at the protocols of our sister universities, has had a very different approach to protests and peaceful demonstration than the protocols on our own campuses. And so having had a chance to speak with the chief of police about what might be a values difference, and also an informational difference – because our community is a newer and more external community than many of the other universities and CEGEPS in the city – that there was much more we could do to be proactively informing each other, learning from each other, so that if either good opportunities are there, or in the rare event that there’s a safety issue or a management concern with respect to our ability to secure the safety of the campuses, we know who each other are, we have some things talked out in advance and its not working through it for the first time. So its good community relations is the bottom line on that, and we thought we were there, but you know, you learn from every new experience, and I think it will be a positive outcome.
MD: And will this meeting take place at the beginning of every year?
HMB: No, I really think the notion of what I put in the response is kind of the minimum. The ideal is that we have a much more open, collaborative relationship. And some of, as I say, is developed in the context of the Milton-Parc Community and the University and the police and so forth, to acknowledge it as a University neighbourhood. So that’s kind of to ensure that the chief of police can pick up the phone to the principal and the principal can pick up to the phone to the chief of police. But that’s not what the activity is, the activity is a much more partnered relationship that, you know, to do all of the normal things that we do in the community and the neighbourhood – welcoming big populations on our campus – and that we know each other if things turn in another direction.
MD: I noticed in your response that you referenced the job titles rather than the names of the senior administrative figures. Was there any reason for this?
HMB: No, there was nothing behind that.
MD: Many of your recommendations include increased consultation with the University. Will all of this be done through Dean Manfredi’s Open Forum?
HMB: No, not at all, and, in fact, many new avenues have been opened up through the fall, into the winter, particularly in the second half of the fall. And some are channels that were there, but that we’re using more actively. But I really believe that the Open Forum will be really important to the extent that we can encourage people to come out, given the size of our community and the mission of the University, there will be diverse views. It’s really important to have fora that allow a range of views to be expressed, with us and with each other, but this has to be a broad community undertaking. I hope classes and different groups will be doing all kinds of different things. And at the level of the faculties and the departments it’s very important because those are the day in, day out communities that people live in.
MD: Why were you not on campus throughout the second occupation?
HMB: Well, I was here for a good part of the second occupation. I was scheduled to be out of town, at meetings, on the Tuesday and Wednesday. And I actually stayed in town because of the events on Tuesday – I wanted to stay close. And then I was out for one day overnight and then back on campus on the Thursday.
MD: So is everything back to normal in James Administration with this being the first day back at work since the occupation?
HMB: Look, I don’t think you call it back to normal. We have a whole bunch of people who work here in service of the University who feel their work place is not the safe place it should be, and some who feel quite traumatized by the events. We’re hoping to get back to a sense of people feeling secure in their workplace and able to conduct their service in support of the University, but we’re not there today.
MD: Why did you not release a statement on the occupation until yesterday?
HMB: Because we had an occupation on. We had a team doing their jobs and we had the person leading it, as the main communicator with the community. So, had I felt that there would be value added to that, I would have, but I certainly wanted to communicate yesterday.
—compiled by Jessica Lukawiecki